Richard Randall: The life of a naturalist  

Richard Randall Photo 1 1

Guam NSF EPSCoR is paying tribute to one of its finest in Professor Emeritus Richard “Dick” Randall, who passed away late last year at the age of 91.  

“He was kind, gentle, generous, astute, knowledgeable, and understanding – all of these amazing qualities that you would really want in not just a scientist or a professor, but a colleague and a friend,” said David Burdick, the collections manager of the Guam NSF EPSCoR GECCO Biorepository 

As a naturalist, Randall was full of curiosity and wonder for the world around him.   

His interest in corals started on a farm in Ohio, where he came across limestone fossils and asked his father what they were. This fascination led him to pursue a degree in biology and become a science teacher at George Washington High School when he and his family came to Guam in 1965.  

His daughter, Lauren Gutierrez, recalled fondly that he would spend almost every day in the ocean after they had arrived to the island.  

“When I was a kid, I used to live with him out in the reef,” said Gutierrez. “He would tie a belt to an inner tube that had a board in it. He would dive down and get the corals and I’d pick them up and put them in the inner tube.” 

Later, Randall received a master’s degree in biology from the University of Guam Marine Laboratory in 1971 – just a year after the facility was established – and went on to teach about corals at the university.  

Randall did not pursue science for fame or renown, but to satisfy his curiosity and share his knowledge with whoever was willing to listen.  

His love for the world around him was relayed through the highly detailed quality of his research, which would include meticulous notes and sketches of the coral species he observed. 

That’s just the kind of guy that he was,” Terry Donaldson, Ph.D., the principal investigator and project director of Guam NSF EPSCoR. “He was a biologist and a geologist, which is not something I always see these days. He always found something interesting to look at and he could tell you about it because he was very knowledgeable.” 

Impact on coral research  

Over the course of his life, Randall worked on 180 scientific publications and accumulated several achievements.   

Randall’s research on the impacts of crown-of-thorns starfish on the island’s reefs in the late ‘60s was foundational when it came to understanding more about how coral communities changed in response to outbreaks of the starfish, which prey upon stony corals.  

In 1983, he wrote the second volume of Guide to the Coastal Resources of Guam, a field guide of the coral species found in Guam waters.   

The UOG Marine Laboratory named a research vessel after him in 2016 for his contributions to the institution’s development.  

As part of a ceremony held in March 2022, Randall was one of six recipients of the 2021 UOG Distinguished Alumni Award – a prestigious designation given to UOG alumni based on professional accomplishments in their field, character and integrity, as well as achievements of local, national, or international significance. 

Randall’s legacy  

Although Randall has passed, his legacy lives on in the people who loved and were inspired by him. 

In June 2021, the Guam NSF EPSCoR GECCO Biorepository was given the honor to house over 30,000 coral specimens he collected – the largest addition to the facility to date.  

The GECCO Biorepository is both a physical and cyber warehouse of records and images of marine organisms found throughout the Pacific and other locales. The collection will serve as a resource for researchers around the world to reference and better understand the diversity of the corals found in the Marianas.  

In addition, Burdick, a longtime friend of Randall, is working on a series of books about coral species found in the Marianas, which will be an expansion of Randall’s coral field guide. The series will contain Randall’s notes about coral species, including new species that have not been described.  

Donaldson said that Guam NSF EPSCoR will be happy to support the completion of the project.   

“He was always amazed by life – every part of it,” said Gutierrez. “Even at 91, he was amazed by it all. He didn’t take it for granted. He had a love for nature and it’s something we’ve always shared. He always instilled in us that you can’t know everything. There’s too much to know and you have to keep your mind open.”    

Six student researchers join Guam NSF EPSCoR 

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EPSCoR INCLUDES Family Orientation 2023 1 scaled
Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration. Photo courtesy of Guam NSF EPSCoR

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration.   

The initiative of this internship is to increase the diversity of students who choose STEM careers.  

As part of the program, these student researchers will spend a year receiving mentorship and research experience in fields such as coral genomics, invertebrate genomics, marine microbiology, molecular ecology, marine ecophysiology, and diatom diversity.  

These students include Madeline Gonzalez, Thomas Babauta, Anna Mallari, Merry Ocampo, Cassandra Paule, and Brandon Respicio. 

“It’s a privilege to be able to welcome and work with all of you,” said Terry Donaldson, Ph.D, the principal investigator and project director of Guam NSF EPSCoR. “Do good work and have a lot of fun!”  

These students will also participate in near-peer mentorship programs which will encourage them to share their experiences and learn from participants in the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance along with other programs under Guam NSF EPSCoR. 

During the SRE program, the student researchers will be able to present their research at various conferences such as the National Diversity in STEM Conference held by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics in Science, the UOG Center for Island Sustainability Conference, and the UOG CNAS Conference.   

Graduate student presents at American Society of Naturalists Conference  

Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California. She presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.” Photo courtesy of Kenzie Pollard

Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California.  
The American Society of Naturalists is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behavior. The event was fully in-person and included researchers from physiology, phylogenetics, genetics, and other associated fields.  

This year’s conference focused on what it means to be a naturalist and researcher in the 21st century.  

During the event, Pollard presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.”   

“It was my first time presenting a talk at an international conference and while I was nervous, it was exciting to share what I had spent the last few years on,” said Pollard. “I even had a professor from the University of Florida reach out to me to discuss my research and our shared interest in pocilloporid corals.”  

According to Pollard, she appreciated being able to attend the talks held at the event.  
“The conference itself was intriguing and packed full of interesting talks,” said Pollard. “The most impactful was the symposium on “Confronting the Legacy of Eugenics in EEB.” A necessary conversation, it raised the voices of underrepresented groups in STEM and focused on the history and impacts of eugenics as well as emphasizing what actions we may take to prevent the perpetuation of these ideologies.”  

During the conference, Pollard was able to make new connections easily.  

“I could meet somebody new at every meal, and coffee breaks between sessions were great opportunities to approach speakers and chat about their research,” said Pollard. “I was fortunate to attend the conference with colleagues from my undergrad and a prospective advisor for my Ph.D. They introduced me to several scientists in their network and it truly helped build my community.” 

Graduate student studies box jellyfish at Tohoku University 

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Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant Colin Anthony is a Special Research Student in the Graduate School of Agricultural Studies at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. 

As a Special Research Student, Anthony is receiving mentorship from Cheryl Ames, Ph.D., a leading expert in marine biology whose research focuses on jellyfish systematics, genomics, and using environmental DNA to understand marine biodiversity.  

“Many of the leaders in my field are Japanese, so [Dr. Ames and I] thought it would be a good idea for me to do some research, network, teach, and present in Japan,” said Anthony.  

During his time at Tohoku University, Anthony will study the protein differences across different structures in box jellyfish (Alatina alata) along with Ames. Box jellyfish get their name from the cube-like shape of their bell and can be found in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.  

“We have these [jellyfish] in Guam, but my samples are from the Netherlands,” said Anthony. “It is the only species found all the way around the world. To do this we pair genomic (DNA), transcriptomic (RNA), and proteomic (amino acids) data using various bioinformatic techniques. We hope this provides novel insight into how box jellyfish produce venom-related proteins.”  

During his time at Tohoku University, Anthony has led an introductory coding workshop for the university’s undergraduate and graduate researchers, presented at a joint conference with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, as well as given a guest lecture on the role of presentation design in effective science communication.  

“The food and people are the best, but my language skills are not very good,” said Anthony.  “So, I look forward to improving my Japanese in order to eat more great food and meet new people.” 

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomes new associate curator of GECCO Biorepository

Diego Vaz Profile

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomes Diego Vaz, Ph.D., as an associate curator of the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) Biorepository. The GECCO Biorepository is both a physical and cyber warehouse of records operated by Guam NSF EPSCoR.

Vaz was born and raised in Brazil, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a master’s in zoology from the University of São Paulo. In 2015, he moved to the United States where he received a doctorate in marine sciences from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. Before his current position with Guam NSF EPSCoR, Vaz was a biodiversity postdoctoral fellow at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

“Taxonomy and the evolutionary part of science is the backbone of any field,” said Vaz. “You have to know the organism you have or you cannot move forward. You cannot do any experiments with them and you cannot protect them if you don’t know what you are dealing with.”

As an associate curator of the GECCO Biorepository, Vaz will research the morphology of coral reef fishes – particularly cryptobenthic fishes. Morphology is a branch of biology that deals with the study of the form and structure of living organisms. Cryptobenthic fishes are small fish that live near or within the seabed named for their elusive nature. They contribute significantly to the food web of coral reefs.

“Cryptobenthic fishes are crucial in the production of organic matter in the reef – not because they produce energy like algae, but because their high density and high mortality feed higher trophic levels, allowing the reef to be so diverse,” said Vaz.

Studying cryptobenthic fishes involves a variety of methods. As much as possible, the GECCO Biorepository takes photographs of its specimens as they exist in nature. To examine the organs of a specimen, manual dissections are performed.

When it comes to examining a specimen’s skeleton, Vaz uses a technique called clearing and staining. In this process, specimens are bathed in a digestive enzyme to slowly break down their flesh and muscles, rendering them transparent. After, they are treated with a series of dyes that stain the cartilage and bones differently.

Recently, the UOG Marine Laboratory acquired a Computed Tomography (CT) scanner. A CT scanner allows for the examination of skeletons without modifying a specimen.

“This is particularly important when you want to study rare organisms,” said Vaz. “When it comes to specimens that you can just collect in the field, it’s easier to do an invasive procedure. When it comes to a rare specimen in a collection, no one will allow you to do a procedure because they want to keep them as whole as possible.”

Regarding his experience working on the Guam NSF EPSCoR project, Vaz said that it’s been interesting to see multiple collaborations working together towards similar goals.

“Collaborations can be very challenging,” said Vaz. “Everyone works differently. This project is the first time I’ve seen such a large group of people collaborating effectively. It’s been a very interesting and cool experience to see that.”

Students present at 2022 NSF EPSCoR National Conference

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Two students from the University of Guam presented their research at the 27th NSF EPSCoR National Conference which was held in Portland, Maine from November 13 – 16, 2022.  

This year’s conference theme was “Translating Stakeholder Needs Into Impactful Research Outcomes.”  

The event engaged audiences from various sectors, disciplines, and jurisdictions – including state legislators, congressional representatives, as well as EPSCoR committees, scientists, and faculty members.  

During the conference, students had the opportunity to interact with peers, and attend workshops and discussions.  

UOG undergraduate biomedical track major Zaine Benavente along with graduate biology student MacKenzie Heagy presented posters of their research projects.  

Benavente, who is part of the 2022 Student Research Experience program, presented his project, “Genetic barcoding of cryptic massive Porites species in Guam’s reef flats.”    
This was my first time presenting at an off-island conference,” said Benavente. “I didn’t know what I was saying yes to, so it was a big surprise! I didn’t know it was such a small group going. I was the only undergraduate student from Guam at the conference. It was a little intimidating, but I got through it and presented my work.”  

Heagy, a Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her project, entitled, “Coralline Algal Phylogenetics to Better Assess Coral Reef Biodiversity.”  

“I talked about Guam’s vastly diverse marine flora and how my group of interest, Genus Mastophora, is a representation of the many species that have yet to be discovered of the crustose coralline algae,” said Heagy.  

Heagy said that she appreciated the opportunity to talk about the research being done at the University of Guam.   

“It was a privilege to represent some work being produced at the UOG Marine Laboratory while learning about the incredible science EPSCoR has encouraged across the country,” said Heagy. “Facilitating strong research from young scientists, EPSCoR projects ranged from virtual reality fire-wise properties to 3D in vitro models for breast cancer research.”  

Guam NSF EPSCoR talks Near Peer Mentorship at EOD conference 

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Emily EOD Conference 2022 1
This year, NSF EPSCoR welcomed representatives from its various jurisdictions nationwide to its first Education, Outreach, and Diversity Conference to learn more about EOD and science communication. Emily Wendte represented Guam NSF EPSCoR at the event as its education and workforce development program associate.

From mentorship opportunities to training programs, Education, Outreach, and Diversity (EOD) is one of the central aspects to any NSF EPSCoR project. This year, NSF EPSCoR welcomed representatives from its various jurisdictions nationwide to its first Education, Outreach, and Diversity Conference to learn more about EOD and science communication.  

The conference took place in South Carolina from September 11 to September 14, 2022.  

Emily Wendte represented Guam NSF EPSCoR at the event as its education and workforce development program associate. As part of Wendte’s responsibilities, she coordinates activities between students, faculty, and project partners.  

Along with Cheryl Sangueza, Ph.D., the student program coordinator for Guam NSF EPSCoR, Wendte presented a slideshow entitled, “Communicating Science Through the Lens of Culture and Identity,” which focused on the Near-Peer Mentorship model that Guam NSF EPSCoR uses to encourage its student researchers to think about science communication and the importance of their work. 

Once a month, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from Guam NSF EPSCoR connect with the program’s undergraduate student researchers as well as those from the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance Guam Hub to talk about their personal experiences as they develop their careers in STEM, advice, as well as better ways to make their research more accessible to the local populace.  

“What’s unique for us is that we’re talking about culture and identity through science communication without losing the integrity of their research,” said Wendte. “They’re thinking about how their work not only makes an impact on a global perspective, but also how it’s important locally and how they’re influencing their local environment and community.”  

For these researchers, talking to each other allows them to be more reflective of their projects as well as support each other.  

“The reception to the presentation was phenomenal,” said Wendte. “The students’ work and what they did really shone through. I talked about how our Near Peer sessions worked and the prompts we would give them to encourage them to talk to each other and relate their experiences to things outside science, within science, and their experiences.”  

Wendte said that after the presentation, representatives from other NSF EPSCoR jurisdictions came up to her to talk about ways they could better serve their students.  

“Guam is in a great position to show the world what we are doing and how it can be done,” said Wendte. “When I was just starting off in education, someone shared with me this important motto: the responsibility of knowing is sharing. I always took that to heart, and I feel that is what Dr. Sangueza and I did with this presentation. We were able to make people think about their programs and what they can do for their students.” 


UOG researcher delivers keynote address at marine sciences conference  

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As part of his keynote address for the “The Biology, Ecology, and Management of Marine Nuisance Species” symposium at the 58th Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA), UOG Senior Research Associate Ciemon Caballes talked about key knowledge gaps in crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) research as well as recent advances the field of study has achieved.  

The event was held from August 7 to August 11, 2022, in Cairns, Australia, and was the biggest AMSA conference in history. It was also the first face-to-face AMSA meeting since 2019.  

Caballes is an executive committee member of the North Queensland Branch of the Australian Marine Sciences Association and was also part of the organizing committee for this conference. As part of his work funded by the University of Guam’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, his research focuses on ecophysiology as well as echinoderm and coral ecology.  

Crown-of-thorns starfish are marine invertebrates that feed on coral and occur naturally on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region. These starfish are one of the largest and most efficient coral predators, and when conditions are right and if left unchecked, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish can devastate hard coral communities.  

Caballes’ presentation was based on a study in which 38 expert participants proposed research questions regarding areas such as the feeding ecology of COTS, predation, settlement, and environmental change. According to Caballes, this research is based in the Great Barrier Reef, but is applicable to everywhere there is COTS.  

“It is basically a roadmap for future research and what the recent advances are regarding crown-of-thorns-starfish,” said Caballes.  

Advances in crown-of-thorn starfish research include new survey methods which can cover large areas of reef and allow divers to find hidden starfish that would not have been found before using conventional survey methods.  

Another novel survey method involves taking water samples to detect DNA shed by COTS and larval traps to determine where and when these starfish are settling onto the reef after their planktonic larval stage.  

“It’s very important to study crown-of-thorns starfish especially here in Guam because we’ve been getting COTS outbreaks ever since they were first observed in the late ‘60s,” said Caballes. During this time, massive outbreaks of COTS on Guam killed over 90 percent of the corals from Tumon to Double Reef.”  

Recent surveys have also identified hotspots of high COTS densities with associated coral mortality around Guam. 

2022 GRA: Meet our new graduate research assistants!  

Xavier De Ramos

This year, Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six new members of its Graduate Research Assistantship program. Over the next three years, these graduate students will receive mentorship, training, and fieldwork experience as they pursue their master’s degree.   

Grace Jackson 

Having grown up in a small beach town in Southern California, Grace Jackson has lived her life surrounded by water.  

“This instilled in me the love for the ocean and later my scientific curiosity,” said Jackson. “I applied to this program to increase my scientific proficiency where I could learn about a different ecosystem and culture that I have not experienced before. I am so glad to be a part of this program.”  

Under the guidance of Tom Schils, Ph.D., Jackson will study crustose coralline red algae, specifically of the genus Lithophyllum.  

CCRA is a group of marine seaweeds that deposits limestone like stony corals. They serve several important ecological functions on reefs, such as building and cementing reefs together or serving as the preferred settlement substrates for coral larvae, which then further develop into adult colonies. 

Lauren Kallen  

Lauren Kallen applied to the Guam NSF EPSCoR GRA program due to the benefits and support that the program provides to its students. Kallen was born and raised in Illinois and earned her bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  

Kallen’s advisor is Sarah Lemer, Ph.D., whose work focuses on the study of marine invertebrates. Over the course of the program, Kallen will conduct research on Drupella snails, carnivorous marine snails that feed on coral. Her research will focus on outbreaks of these snails on coral reefs because in high densities, these snails can quickly decimate a reef.  

I am very excited and grateful to be in this program, it is an amazing opportunity. I am very interested in outreach and giving back to the beautiful community in Guam,” said Kallen.   

Garret O’Donnell  

While looking for potential graduate programs, Garret O’Donnell found out about the Guam NSF EPSCoR program through his mentors from the University of Florida. 

Under the guidance of David Combosch, Ph.D., O’Donnell will study Leptoria, a genus of brain coral. O’Donnell said that he is interested in Leptoria’s population genetics, spawning behavior, and abiotic stress responses to factors such as heat and low oxygen.  

Since coming to Guam, O’Donnell said that he appreciates the UOG Marine Laboratory community.  

“I think everyone there has been super welcoming and super cohesive as a unit and that’s been really cool to see,” said O’Donnell. “Everyone seems to know what everybody else is doing and that’s not something you always see in science. A lot of the time, labs are kind of isolated from each other. I like to see that there’s a lot of camaraderie amongst the students and the faculty.”   

Andrew O’Neill  

Throughout his life, Andrew O’Neill found a love for the ocean. As he pursued his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he wanted to specialize in ecology and conservation. Once he learned about the Guam NSF EPSCoR GRA program, he saw it as a unique opportunity to do research and help the environment.  

During the program, O’Neill will be advised by Atsushi Fujimura, Ph.D., and plans to focus on research the effects of sedimentation on Guam’s reef fish assemblages.  

“In my first semester here, I did some instructing with some of the undergraduate biology sections and through that, I learned the Guam has a huge sedimentation problem,” said O’Neill. “Lots of silt gets washed away from all the rains and the rivers and flows down to the coastal waters. I want to figure out what would be the worst-case scenario if we don’t fix this problem.”  

Xavier De Ramos  

Knowing that he wanted to find ways to help the island, De Ramos earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. 

“Towards the halfway point of my time in college, I started thinking about Guam – my home,” said De Ramos. “I remember having a lasting impression after I went snorkeling and I was just blown away about what I saw down there. That got me thinking about what kind of issues Guam is facing or if there was anything I could do to contribute to research regarding its coral reefs.”  

De Ramos will be advised by Ciemon Caballes, Ph.D., whose research focuses on ecophysiology as well as coral and echinoderm ecology.  

“I feel very excited about learning more through this program and my graduate courses because I want to give back to the island,” said De Ramos. “At the end of the day, giving back to the island is all that matters to me.”  

Graduate biology student attends University of Washington summer research program 

Therese Miller Photo 2

University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR graduate research assistant Therese Miller gained research experience this summer through a course held by the University of Washington. The class was called Biodiversity and Integrative Taxonomy of Invertebrates and was held at the university’s field station in Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island from July 18 to August 18, 2022.  

The course focused on methods for documenting and describing the species-level diversity of invertebrate animals through activities such as field trips to collect samples, dissecting, photography, and genetics work.  

The class was taught by two instructors: Gustav Paulay, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Florida who served as the director of the UOG Marine Laboratory from 1991 to 2000 and has extensive experience in studying marine invertebrate zoology.  

Kevin Kocot, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Alabama, hosted workshops on bioinformatics and studying meiofauna. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that develops software and tools to understand biological data. Meiofauna are small invertebrates that live on or near the bottom of bodies of water.  

“Together, they not only encouraged our passions for studying marine biodiversity but also equipped us with the tools to further our careers,” said Miller.  

Over the course of the program, Miller worked on a research project that involved describing species of blood stars (Henricia), a sea star found along the Pacific Coast which is typically red-orange in color but can vary from tan to almost purple. 

“Historically, what appear to be several different species are all called the same name in the literature or are left undescribed,” said Miller. “My project entailed collecting about 50 specimens of these sea stars and taking DNA from them to see how closely they were genetically related.”  

During the course, she found two specimens of a species that were the first to be sampled in the Juan de Fuca Island strait. This species had previously been found along California and Oregon.  

Throughout her time in Washington, Miller was able to see cultural aspects of San Juan Island such as various small farms throughout the island as well as a fishing vessel that belonged to the indigenous Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest.   

“It was fascinating to learn about some of the native tribes that have lived in the area for several centuries,” said Miller. “I also relearned the importance of characterizing biodiversity in the anthropogenic age, particularly for marine species, which are largely understudied compared to terrestrial fauna. This is especially important to me living on Guam since marine biodiversity here is so rich and there is so much to research and explore. I felt this course really inspired me to open my eyes more to the world around me and consider what species here have yet to be identified.” 


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